Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

Welcome to First Monday when I open this blog to the reality of being a writer. Not the precious wrist-on-forehead stuff but the challenges, fears and yes, the joys of the craft.

In the movie version of Lost in Space, there’s a great line that says, “If there’s no time to have any fun, why are we out saving the galaxy?”

Why indeed?

Having fun isn’t just goofing off. It’s how our brains deal with complex issues, make new discoveries and solve problems.

Playing helps you to relax and avoid stress-related illnesses. It stimulates the brain to release endorphins and other natural chemicals that make us feel good and boost our immune systems. Laughter quickens the heartbeat, expands circulation, enhances oxygen intake and is such good exercise for your facial muscles that it helps fight wrinkles.

How can relaxing achieve so much?

It comes back to the division between the logical left brain and the creative right brain, though today these are considered more as divisions of function rather than lines drawn down the middle of the brain.

In general the logical brain is concerned with words, science, maths, rules and reason. The creative brain is more interested in ideas, insights, intuition and imagination. In strange surroundings or under stress, the left brain tends to stay in charge. Only when you let yourself relax does your creative brain have the time and space it needs to generate new ideas and concepts.

This is why going on holiday somewhere new can be a bad choice if you hope to get much writing done. Your left brain will be so busy sorting out where everything is that you may well find writing more difficult, at least for most of us.

Having a regular place where you go to write, whether to a designated office, your bedroom or the local coffee shop is more likely to result in stories and word counts you’ll be happy with.

When I conduct writing workshops I’m well aware of how hard our left brains are working to stay in charge. I tell the group that I don’t expect “good” writing from anyone, only that what they write shows a grasp of the principles we’re exploring.

I aim to set up an atmosphere of what psychotherapist Carl Rogers calls “psychological safety” so everybody feels free to explore ideas, knowing they’ll be encouraged rather than judged or criticised.

I also throw in as much laughter and enjoyment as I can. And there’s always chocolate.

A typical example was the new Story Magic workshop I presented last weekend at the ACT Writers’ Centre in Canberra. I wanted to go beyond all the hype of marketing, publishing and social media that goes with writing today and return the focus to the act of writing itself.

Think about it. Putting a few black scratchings on a page or screen is magical. Writing is the original virtual reality without the need for headsets or goggles. You simply put a collection of black markings on your screen or page and they magically create a whole world inside your reader’s head.

Done well, the scratchings conjure up people we care about, worlds we’d like to live in and adventures that take us away from the cares of everyday life.

Think of Game of Thrones, Wuthering Heights, Hamlet, Dr No, Harry Potter, Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella, The Time Machine. As books they were mere scratchings on a page. Yet they were so successful in conjuring up virtual worlds inside our heads that producers couldn’t wait to turn them into block buster movies and TV.

This to me is true “story magic.”

Taking a more light-hearted approach to your writing isn’t abdicating your grown-up responsibilities. It is giving yourself permission to play which is vital if you are to come up with new ideas and insights that might just turn into the latest best seller.

And if it doesn’t you’ve entertained yourself and many of your friends. You’ve also given your brain a workout designed to keep it healthy while at the very least, staving off some wrinkles.

Not bad for a few scratchings on a page or screen.

As a writer, whatever stage you’re at, do you find laughter and enjoyment helpful to your work? Feel free to share your comments. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your comments can appear right away if you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone. Happy (and I do mean happy) writing!


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Comments on: "First Monday Mentoring April – why we need to enjoy the writing process" (7)

  1. cagedunn said:

    Um, I can’t think of any way I can be a writer if I can’t ‘play like a child in a new place’ and make new friends and learn new ways of speaking, of being, of communicating with those who are the same, different, even heavenly (or the opposite). It’s all play, isn’t it?
    Of course, the serious stuff comes when it has to make sense to someone else, so the ‘spell’ of putting those words out there (the stuff you learned from your imaginary play-time) can be understood by as many as possible.

    • I do agree with your comment about being able to play as part of the writing process. We do the best we can to ensure our words make sense while the rest is up to the reader.

  2. MM says she had more fun writing than any other time in her life.
    Maybe the lack of play is what’s kept me from selling a second novel so far… Maybe I should invite all the characters to a picnic and let them interact, instead of browbeating the villain into revealing his motivation to me. (Insert eye roll emoticon here) I’ve stressed over the plot long enough! It’s time for the book to write itself! (But probably not until after my two gigs this coming Saturday and our Eastee Pageant on Good Friday…)
    Thanks for another inspiring post, Valerie! 🙂

    • Glad you enjoyed the post, Marion.I’m with MM on this. Many times I’ve been deeply in my fictional world, only to look up and say to myself, “I’m working!” because it doesn’t always feel like work. There are other times, of course, but the fun part is our reward.I hope the character picnic works out. Let me know. And FYI I’m still waiting for my books to write themselves.

      • If only they would! 😀 I will let you know about the character picnic. Maybe seeing villain interact with his wife & children as well as the other characters will give me a better insight into his psyche. I hope. AND, in that moment, as I was typing this, I had a vision of Villain flinging a Frisbee to his kids. Maybe this will work, after all! He was smiling, even, and looked relaxed. (A relaxed villain is a happy villain?)

  3. 5bayby14u said:

    Hi Valerie – – I nominated your for a blogger award! Check out my site for rules if you choose to participate. I’m love your books and your blog!

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